Sehet! Wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem, BWV 159, was composed in 1729 for Quinquagesima, the last Sunday before Lent (also called Estomihi). The Gospel passage for this day, Luke 18:31–43, anticipates Jesus’ path of suffering. It begins with the words: ‘Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished.’

Cantata BWV 159 was written at the same time as the St. Matthew Passion, and has the same profound tone of that masterpiece. The opening recitative reverses a scheme that is heard throughout the passion setting: the soul is accompanied by a string orchestra, Jesus by continuo. The poignant text about going up to Jerusalem is accompanied by tortured rising lines in the continuo. The alto aria is a motionless floating aria, almost Buddhist in its otherworldly stasis. The sopranos sing a verse of the passion chorale on top of this ethereal aria. The bass aria with oboe and strings is one of the greatest in all of Bach; a deeply felt interpretation of the crucifixion that is to come. The setting of the chorale "Jesu, deine Passion" is almost unearthly in its calm.

©Craig Smith and Ryan Turner

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